Sandip Das | Taraori village, Haryana, India
Even the biggest revolutions are known to have modest beginnings. Taraori, a village tucked away in Haryana, is witnessing something similar. At a time when the rest of the state is grappling with rapid depletion of groundwater and soil contamination, this village stands out like a bright spot amid the gloom. And it’s new-generation farmers like Vikas Chaudhary who are ushering in a change.
Chaudhary, who owns 34 acre of cultivable land in this village (considered the country’s Basmati hub), has been practising conservation farming methods, such as zero tillage, direct seeding and soil health-based fertiliser application, for the last three years.
And Chaudhary is just one of the 20-odd farmers in the region using conservation farming methods. As a result, not only has the old practice of burning crop residues in the fields come to an end, but the use of fertiliser, particularly urea, has consistently fallen.
“Through frequent soil-testing, we have noticed that farmers have been using less potash, which improves water retention and improves resistance to diseases,” Chaudhary told FE.
Mukesh Kumar, another farmer with 25 acre of land, has also employed modern methods such as direct seeding (of paddy) and cultivation of wheat right after paddy has been harvested (zero tillage — where crops are planted without disturbing the soil).
However, Chaudhary and Kumar admit that convincing the 120-odd farmers in the village to adopt the modern, climate-resilient methods would be a challenging task as the increase in yield and input cost savings take at least three years to reflect.
“Traditionally, farmers in Haryana and Punjab have been sowing wheat after rice harvesting. They till their land 6-8 times, which pushes up the production cost, leads to delays in planting of wheat and results in loss of residual soil moisture,” said ML Jat, senior scientist in Global Conservation Agriculture Programme (GCAP) initiated by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Programme (CIMMYT).
Under GCAP, 20 villages in Haryana (around Karnal) have been selected for promotion of conservation farming methods. Out of that, five villages — Beer Narayana, Anjanthali, Pakhana, Sandhir and Taraori — have been piloted as ‘climate smart villages’.
According to a study conducted by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), zero tillage helps one save on planting time, fuel and water apart from improving the fertilier’s efficiency. The study also states that wheat yields from ‘zero tillage’ areas with residue retention were 0.5 tonne/hectare higher than those from conventional tillage areas.
Groundwater levels in Haryana are depleting fast because of overuse for agricultural needs, threatening the future of agriculture in a state that’s been at the forefront of wheat and rice production. Last year, data by the state’s agriculture department, said that over the past 12 years, most districts have seen an average fall of 7.29 metres in the water table.
“The challenges faced by farmers are going to be more pronounced as climate change worsens. Let’s hope that sustainable agricultural practices show promising results and lower costs. Punjab also needs to step up its efforts in this direction,” said Ashok Gulati, chairman, Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP).